Section 301 against China: U.S. Launches into Maritime, Logistics, and Shipbuilding


On April 17, 2024, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) initiated a Section 301 investigation against China. At the same time, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office announced that, after reviewing the reports on five national industries, it has decided to initiate an investigation under Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act into China’s logistics, and shipbuilding sectors. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce immediately indicated that China strongly disapproves and resolutely opposes this move.

The Section 301 of Trade Act of 1974 investigation againt China

The Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 allows the USTR to address foreign practices that burden or restrict U.S. commerce. This includes the ability to take a variety of actions if such practices are found to be unfair. The current investigation will involve a review of public comments and a public hearing​.

This action follows broader concerns about China’s role in global shipbuilding, where it has significantly increased its market share over the last two decades, affecting U.S. shipbuilders and related industries. The investigation highlights issues like predatory pricing supported by state policies, and the strategic use of state-owned enterprises to bolster Chinese industry at the expense of global competition​​.

The initiation of a Section 301 investigation againt China

The initiation of a Section 301 investigation by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) into China’s practices in the maritime, logistics, and shipbuilding industries is a significant move within the framework of U.S. trade law. This kind of investigation is designed to address foreign practices that are considered unfair and that burden or restrict U.S. commerce. Here’s a deeper exploration into the context, implications, and historical background of such investigations, particularly focusing on the dynamics between the U.S. and China.

Historical Context and Legal Framework

  • Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974: This is a critical tool in the U.S. trade policy arsenal that allows the USTR to investigate and potentially impose trade sanctions on foreign countries whose practices negatively affect American businesses and industries. Historically, it has been used as a lever in broader trade negotiations.
  • Previous Investigations: The U.S. has launched similar investigations in the past, notably one in 2017 against China’s intellectual property practices, which eventually led to the imposition of tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods. This set the stage for the U.S.-China trade war during the Trump administration.

Section 301 investigation againt China: Current Investigation

  • Allegations: The current allegations suggest that China uses a variety of non-market policies to dominate the global shipbuilding industry, logistics, and maritime sectors. These policies reportedly include substantial subsidies to Chinese firms, preferential treatment in lending and access to inputs like steel at below-market prices, and regulatory practices that favor domestic over foreign competitors.
  • Impact on U.S. Industries: The U.S. maritime and shipbuilding sectors have experienced a significant decline over the years, with China’s shipbuilding capacity dramatically increasing. The petition from U.S. labor unions highlighted that such practices by China have led to job losses and decreased market shares for U.S. companies in these sectors.

Section 301 investigation againt China: Economic and Strategic Implications

  • Global Shipbuilding Market: China’s dominance in shipbuilding is not just an economic issue but also a strategic one. The ability to control shipbuilding capacity has implications for global trade routes and maritime security.
  • National Security Concerns: The USTR’s investigation also underscores concerns about national security, given the strategic nature of the maritime and logistics sectors. Control over these sectors could give China undue leverage over global logistics chains and potentially sensitive maritime routes.

Section 301 investigation againt China: Responses and Potential Outcomes

  • Chinese Response: Historically, China has responded to such investigations with retaliatory measures, which could range from tariffs on U.S. goods to other forms of economic retaliation.
  • Potential U.S. Actions: Depending on the findings of the investigation, the U.S. could impose tariffs or other trade barriers. Additionally, there might be an increased push for revitalizing the U.S. shipbuilding industry through subsidies, tax incentives, or protective measures to ensure competitiveness in the global market.

Section 301 investigation againt China: Broader Trade Relations

  • Impact on U.S.-China Trade Relations: This investigation could strain U.S.-China trade relations further, especially following phases of trade negotiations and tariff impositions over recent years. It reflects ongoing tensions and the complex nature of economic interdependence between the two global giants.
  • Global Trade Dynamics: Actions taken as a result of this investigation will likely influence global trade dynamics, especially in Asia-Pacific, where many countries are closely tied to China economically but also rely on the U.S. for security and strategic partnerships.

This investigation by the USTR represents a crucial juncture in international trade policy, especially in how global trade rules are enforced and the measures nations can take to protect their industries from perceived unfair practices. The outcomes of this investigation could have long-term implications for international economic policy and trade norms.

Section 301 against China 2024

The Chinese spokesperson’s opposition to the U.S. Section 301 investigation

The statement from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce reflects a strong opposition and dissatisfaction with the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) decision to initiate a Section 301 investigation into China’s maritime, logistics, and shipbuilding industries.

Strong Opposition:

China expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to the USTR’s investigation, framing it as an unfounded and politically motivated action that distorts normal trade and investment activities as threats to U.S. national security and economic interests.

Rejection of Accusations:

China criticizes the USTR’s allegations as baseless, arguing that they misrepresent normal commercial operations as harmful to U.S. security and corporate interests. The Chinese statement contends that these accusations lack factual support and contradict economic logic.

Historical Context of U.S. Industry:

The response points to multiple studies suggesting that the U.S. shipbuilding industry has lost its competitive edge long ago due to overprotection and not because of Chinese practices. It criticizes the U.S. for providing massive subsidies to its own industries while accusing China of non-market practices.

WTO Rulings:

The statement references past actions by the U.S. government, notably during the previous administration, which led to tariffs that were eventually ruled against by the World Trade Organization (WTO). This historical context is used to frame the new investigation as another mistake that violates international trade rules.

Call for Multilateralism:

China urges the U.S. to respect multilateral trade rules and to cease what it sees as erroneous practices, advocating for a return to rule-based international trade systems.

Defensive Stance:

The statement asserts that China will closely monitor the investigation’s progress and take all necessary measures to defend its national interests robustly.

The views on the U.S. Section 301 investigation against China

In the upcoming U.S. presidential election, both Biden and Trump are showcasing their tough stances on China policy. In a speech at the United Steelworkers Union, Biden mentioned that China’s actions are not competitive but rather cheating. However, he also stated that America’s goal is not to confront China but to seek a fair competitive environment. Additionally, the U.S. is committed to maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait. This strategy may also be aimed at gaining support from American workers’ organizations in the forthcoming election.

Biden’s remarks likely aim to balance criticism of China while maintaining domestic voter support, especially among key manufacturing sectors and the working class. This indicates that while the Biden administration displays a competitive stance towards China, it still aims to avoid unnecessary confrontations, emphasizing the importance of fairness and rules in competition. This strategy reflects not only domestic political needs but also a cautious approach to complex international relations.


Finally, this response illustrates how trade disputes are often intertwined with broader political and economic narratives and how nations use these platforms to assert their positions and defend their domestic policies and practices on the global stage. China positions itself as a defender of multilateral trade rules while criticizing the U.S. approach as unilateral and protectionist, reflecting ongoing tensions in U.S.-China relations and the Chinese government’s measured response.


Published by: Mr. Mao Rida. You are welcome to share this article, but please credit the author and include the website link when doing so. Thank you for your support and understanding.



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